Maroon 5 wows Super Bowl amid racism row

Touchdown: Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine said the decision to perform took some “looking inward”.

The Super Bowl halftime show is one of the biggest shows on Earth. But this year, the spectacle was almost overshadowed by controversy over the NFL’s response to anti-racism protests.

Playing the Super Bowl halftime show is one of the greatest achievements of an artist’s career. Over the years, the stage has been graced by music royalty from Lady Gaga to The Rolling Stones.

But last night, as Maroon 5 performed to an audience of 75,000 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium, the show was at the centre of a controversy over racism and protest in the US.

Rihanna and Pink are among the acts believed to have turned down the show in support for Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback who has not played in the NFL since he started protesting against racism and police brutality in 2016.

This year, Variety called the halftime show “music’s least wanted gig”.

“I got to sacrifice a lot of money to perform,” said rapper Cardi B, who also refused to perform. “But there’s a man who sacrificed his job for us, so we got to stand behind him.”

Maroon 5 were joined by Big Boi, a member of hip-hop group OutKast, and rapper Travis Scott in a show watched by 100 million Americans.

The acts’ decision to appear sparked widespread anger. Over 100,000 Maroon 5 fans signed a petition pleading with the band to pull out of the show. Jay-Z reportedly advised Scott against performing.

How did it all begin?

Two and a half years ago, Kaepernick started kneeling, rather than standing, when the national anthem was played before games to protest against police brutality against African-Americans. The “take a knee” movement spread rapidly through the NFL as other players joined the protest.

President Donald Trump was enraged by the movement, which he condemned as unpatriotic. As a result of the furore, the NFL said teams would be fined if their players knelt during the anthem.

The San Francisco 49ers dropped Kaepernick in 2016, and no team has signed him since. The athlete has accused team owners of colluding to keep him out of the league.

While the protests have died out, anger has continued to bubble about the NFL’s lack of support for Kaepernick and the “take a knee” movement. Nevertheless, some artists have been defiant about their decision to perform at the Super Bowl.

“I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions,” said Gladys Knight, who sang the national anthem last night.

Win the day

Should the musicians have pulled out of the halftime show? Is it hypocritical to disagree with the NFL but still perform? Or, is it harmful to criticise black artists like Knight who seize a unique opportunity?

Should politics be kept out of music altogether? In these divisive times, music can act as a unifier for those who usually disagree. But for many African-Americans, police brutality is not a political squabble: it’s life and death.

You Decide

  1. Should Maroon 5 have pulled out of performing at the Super Bowl?
  2. Is protest the most effective way of creating change?

Activities

  1. Design your own Super Bowl halftime show. Choose any musician you want and plan what the stage would look like. Would there be fireworks? What songs would they perform? Would it make a political statement?
  2. Write a profile on Colin Kaepernick, explaining the story of his life and his work as an anti-racism activist.

Some People Say...

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

Colin Kaepernick

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Last night, the Los Angeles Rams took on the New England Patriots in the 53rd Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the culmination of the NFL’s American football season. Maroon 5, Big Boi and Travis Scott performed at the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, despite facing calls to pull out over the NFL’s lack of support for players protesting against racism.
What do we not know?
Whether politics has a place at the Super Bowl halftime show. In 2013, Beyoncé’s performance referenced the Black Panthers. Other performances in recent years from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry steered clear of politics in favour of dramatic stagecraft.

Word Watch

Colin Kaepernick
He recently appeared in a Nike advertising campaign with the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” President Trump criticised the campaign and many conservatives who opposed the “take a knee” protests posted videos of burning Nike trainers.
Quarterback
The star player of an American football team. The quarterback’s main job is to pass the ball to receivers in order to help the team advance up the field towards the end zone, where points are scored.
NFL
The National Football League is the largest American football league with 32 teams.
OutKast
OutKast were one of several successful hip-hop acts to come out of Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1990s.
Police brutality
There has been growing anger in the last few years over police violence against African-Americans in the US after a few high-profile incidents in which unarmed black men were shot dead by officers.
Colluding
Plan in a secret way. Kaepernick is suing the league for lost earnings.